Last week my friend Sam and I discussed what we want to bequeath our children when we pass on.
Sam told me his wife has a beautiful antique jewelry collection that she plans to sell instead of leaving it to their children. Why do that, I asked. He replied that his wife doesn’t think their children have any interest in her jewelry. Anticipating that they would either sell the jewelry or give it away, she wants to cash it in and leave their kids the money, which is something she knows they can use.
I suggested she look at the issue differently: Instead of thinking of her jewelry in monetary terms, view it as something by which their children will remember her. Why not let each of them select one or two of her favorite pieces as a remembrance of her? How better to remember a loved one than by possessing something that that individual truly valued?
It boils down to this: how do we want to be remembered? In his book How to Say it to Seniors, author David Solie talks about three kinds of legacy.
The first is the “default legacy.” This occurs when a survivor sorts through a deceased person’s personal effects and finds letters, photographs, diaries, or notes that may reveal secrets that the survivor never knew. Do we really want to be remembered ‘by default’? This process risks leaving an inaccurate portrait of our lives.
A second is the “political legacy,” which Solie describes as doing the right thing, or doing what is expected. Dad leaves his car to his son, and Mom her household effects to her daughter. This can be a mechanical process which doesn’t do justice to the relationships, challenges, and accomplishments of a recently deceased loved one.
Finally, Solie discusses the “organic legacy” – a bequest that “comes from the heart” and may challenge us to undertake an in depth review of our life. It could be an item with significant intrinsic worth or an act of courage, a decision to repair a damaged relationship, or an expression of loyalty and faith. Ultimately, it results in our being remembered for what we value most.